By Wendy Conrad, Educator and Special School Mental Health Lead for Derby City (@wendymariconrad)
Children all over the UK are accessing learning portals, the internet, online classes. But for many children whose additional educational needs mean that they are unable to access the world of online learning without substantial support, the online classroom can be less than inclusive.
Many children who attend special schools come into daily contact with nurses, physio, intensive educational support which is tailored towards their individual needs. So how can this transfer to the home environment? In truth, it can’t, however, I hope some of these tips and suggestions might help.
Tip One- Access your school’s website:
Special schools across the country have a wealth of knowledge about the students that they teach, and the schools are continually updating and amending learning activities which are suitable for your young person. If you have a timetable of the school week, use it if it helps, many students like a sense of routine and familiarity. However, these are extraordinary times, some activities will take longer than others and not every day will work out the same. Spread the activities out, there isn’t a fixed timetable, your young person might like structure, however, if you find that your young person likes to be more active in the morning swap any exercise session to the morning and leave calming reading or paper activities to the afternoon. If you have the technology to skype or facetime one of their school friends, getting your young person to show their finished work to a friend will result in a sense of community.
Tip Two- Be creative and connect the learning to real life:
Look at their EHCP Targets and use them to build learning and at the same time help around the home. For example, for a maths target, it goes without saying that cooking or baking is always a fabulous way to discreetly teach maths in addition your young person could count out cutlery, counting tins in the cupboard or weigh any ingredients for the evening meal. For a literacy target, identifying labels on tins, recognising products for online shopping. For a recognition of colour target, sorting out laundry. For a writing target, designing a simple poster of positive words which can go onto a front window. Being active can include a simple circuit in the garden using tins as weights. Communication targets are really tricky in this lockdown situation, however, where possible with support your young person can talk or see a friend or family member using technology available at home, or if that is unavailable a simple board game which needs communication to work such as a simple matching game. Talk to the other parents and swap ideas, you will be surprised how many ideas are out there.
Tip Three- Create a Sensory Environment
Students with SLD or PMLD will have as a large part of their week a sensory diet. This can be challenging to replicate at home, however, here are some suggestions which we hope you find useful.
- Make a texture sensory box, of no more than two or three different textures which the children can explore. Support the child in choosing what they would like in the box, scarves, wool and sponges make great sensory materials. In addition, you can use the objects for visual tracking.
- Music time, using objects like pots, pans and tins to beat out a rhythm which is loud and quiet, fast and slow while you sing a nursey rhyme or song. Listen to Classical music online, you don’t have to listen to all of it just a little sample. Ask the student to describe what they see when they listen to it.
- Make a simple scented playdough, there are hundreds of recipes online. Making the playdough also uses fine and gross motor skills.
- If there have been any home exercises sent home keep going with them as best you can.
Tip Four- Relaxation and Wellness:
Meditation and calming activities are really important for helping SEND students. Most schools take part in some sort of daily calming activity, one of the most popular in schools is peer massage. You can find the peer massage script online simply search for ‘Peer Massage Routine’ or email your child’s school for a version. Once your child has received the massage session, they might like to repeat on you! However, you can also blow bubbles, this is a great way on focusing on your breathing by taking a big deep breath in and blowing out slowly watching the bubbles float away. Make a mindfulness jar, fill an empty clean jar with water to about three quarters full and add some glitter, fasten the lid firmly and shake the jar, your child can then watch the glitter as it swirls and settles. Do a body scan, the body scan is an easy one to teach to children:
1. Your child lies down on their back on a comfortable surface and closes their eyes.
2. They then need to squeeze every single muscle in their body as tight as they can. Squish their toes and feet, squeeze their hands into fists to make their legs and arms as hard as stone.
3. After a few seconds, release all their muscles and relax for a few minutes.
4. Think about how their body is feeling throughout the activity.
Each child is different, and the experiences we are going though as a whole are new for us all. The tips above are good starting point for supporting their emotional, sensory and learning needs. Keep the home-learning system flexible and communicate challenges with peers with whom you can share ideas, ensuring your child doesn’t miss out on any learning.